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“Mosques are springing up everywhere,” Congolese Bishop Says amid Fear of Islamization

The national Congolese Bishops’ Conference calculates that there have been over 6,000 people killed in Beni since 2013. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been engulfed in a cloud of fear owing to the increasing attacks that target Christians in what a Catholic Bishop in the Central African country has described as a path towards Islamization, also seen in the mushrooming of mosques.

Bishop Melchisedec Sikuli Paluku who spoke to the Pontifical Charity Organization, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, has given an account of Christians being abducted and given Muslims names against their will and mosques being constructed everywhere.

Bishop Paluku who has been at the helm of DRC’s Diocese of Butembo-Beni since August 1998 says that those behind the persecution of Christians have “a grand scheme to Islamize or expel the local populations.”

When asked why he spoke of Islamization when the main organization involved in the abductions and the attacks in the region is the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which does not claim to be an Islamist entity, the Bishop said, “All those who have been kidnapped by these terrorist groups and who have escaped alive from them report the same thing.”

“They (victims) were given the choice between death and conversion to Islam,” Bishop Paluku says, and adds, “They are given Muslim names to cement their identity. Besides, even those who live in the Diocese and haven’t gone through this traumatic experience can tell you that mosques are springing up everywhere.”

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He says that for many years, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi had a lot of interest in DRC and gave generously towards the building of mosques in the country.

The Bishop of Butembo-Beni adds that today, “other sources” have come up strongly and have taken over the funding of the construction of the buildings.

The armed militant groups are engaged in some other very lucrative activities to further expand their sources of funding, the Congolese Bishop says in the May 3 report.

“It is plain to see that Islamization is not their sole motivation!” he says, and adds, “This region abounds with natural resources and they are being exploited completely illegally.”

“How else can you explain those coltan refineries that are operating in Rwanda, when the country has none of this resource?” the Bishop poses, and adds, “Instead this rare mineral is extracted here in our region and exported quite illegally across the other side of the frontier. And I see no sign of the Congolese government being concerned.”

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ACN reports that since the beginning of April, a wave of demonstrations, some of them violent, have shaken the DRC, calling for an end to insecurity.

Justifying the protests, Bishop Paluku says, “You cannot ask people who are being slaughtered like animals to simply shut up and do nothing. They have every right to demand security, every right to demand freedom. We simply urge that this should be done with respect for the law, peacefully and without violence.”

The people, the Bishop says, are protesting what he describes as “the completely ineffectual nature of the UN peacekeeping mission” amid heightened conflict.

Sharing his own experience, the 69-year-old Congolese Bishop says, “When I became Bishop, 20 years ago, people were already talking about the balkanization (hostile fragmentation) of the region. I can only say that the expression still applies today!”

He says that the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) calculates that there have been over 6,000 people killed in Beni since 2013 and over 2,000 in Bunia in the year 2020 alone.

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There are also at least 3 million internal refugees and around 7,500 people who have been kidnapped, the Bishop says, and adds, “There is a grand scheme to Islamize or expel the local populations.”

He denounces what he refers to as weakness and complicity on the part of the Felix Tshisekedi-led government and says that he is not afraid to call out the country’s leadership for allowing violence in the country.

When ACN asked whether he thinks he is taking a risk in denouncing the government, Bishop Paluku says, “The Congolese Catholic Church is not concerned in this respect. She has done so much for the construction of the country and she manages so many schools and hospitals!”

“Congo would not be the Congo without the Church. So, we are fortunate in being able to speak out quite freely,” the Congolese Bishop says.